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Tayport man scores home run with club ambitions as Dundee-born US baseball star honoured

Ever fancied playing baseball?
Michael Alexander
Jason West is the general manager of the newly formed Tayport Breakers. Image: John Linton Photography
Jason West is the general manager of the newly formed Tayport Breakers. Image: John Linton Photography

Ever fancied playing baseball?

Michael Alexander speaks to the American founder of Tayport Baseball Club who doesn’t just want to build a team – he wants to build a legacy from the ground up.

Tayport Common might be 3,500 miles away from Cleveland Stadium – the former home of Major League Baseball side Cleveland Indians in the lakefront area of Cleveland, Ohio.

But it’s on the shores of the Tay that the legacy of 1980s Cleveland baseball pitcher Tom Waddell has been honoured within sight of the Broughty Ferry home where he was born and raised.

Honouring Dundee-born star

The recently formed Tayport Baseball Club, known as the Tayport Breakers, have named their ground the Tom Waddell Memorial Baseball Field.

Waddell, who played Major League Baseball for the Cleveland Indians (now Guardians), was one of only 498 professional baseball players to have been born in the UK and one of only seven to have played in the league since 1980.

Tom Waddell, played baseball for the Cleveland Indians

The son of a father from Lochee and mother from Broughty Ferry, Tom emigrated to New Jersey in the USA with his parents when he was very young.

His sister Marilyn was born in the USA five years after Tom.

Yet they always felt very Scottish and would return to Broughty Ferry every summer as children to visit relatives.

Now, the Tayport tribute to the baseball star, who died in 2019 aged 61, has been made with the blessing of the family.

“I can’t tell you how much it would have meant to Tom to have that field named after him,” said Tom’s sister Marilyn Waddell-Fortune, a counsellor at Dundee Carers Centre.

“That would have been the ultimate for him.

“Before he passed, he had planned on retiring back to Dundee.

“He was born at 2 Church Street which faces the water.

“You can almost see the house he was born in from the baseball field.

“That would have been his ultimate dream to be honest.”

Tom Waddell’s baseball career

A baseball player from the age of six, Tom Waddell, a pitcher, played for Manhattan College and semi-pro teams.

However, an elbow problem meant he went undrafted when he left college in 1981.

He fell out of baseball and was working as a clothes salesman, playing softball at night, when he decided his elbow had recovered enough for him to relaunch his baseball career.

Tom Waddell, played baseball for the Cleveland Indians

Waddell had a try-out with the Atlanta Braves and impressed scouts, including future Hall of Fame player Hank Aaron.

It was enough to win a contract with one of the team’s minor league affiliates.

Signed by the Cleveland Indians, he made his Major League debut against the Baltimore Orioles in 1984 and went on to make 58 relief appearances for the team that season.

In 1985, he was converted to a starting pitcher, beating the New York Yankees in his first start.

Shoulder surgery in September 1985 effectively ended his Major League career.

He made three appearances with the Indians’ minor league affiliate before appearing for another six games for the Indians in 1987.

He then returned to the minor leagues before retiring in 1989.

After his playing career ended, he had a number of jobs and made his home in Tucson, where he owned an indoor baseball training facility.

Support of the family an ‘honour’

Waddell’s sister is in no doubt that if her brother was still alive, he’d be involved in the running of Tayport Breakers. Tom’s son Kyle, also a baseball player, also lives in Dundee.

But as far as club founder and general manager Jason West is concerned, to have the support of the family is an honour in itself.

Jason West is the general manager of the newly formed Tayport Breakers. Image: John Linton Photography

“One of the first things I did at the beginning was investigate the history of baseball in the Dundee area,” said Jason.

“I ran into the story of Tom Waddell. Unfortunately, that’s when I came across that he had recently passed away.

“But his family still lives in Broughty Ferry. They’ve been really great in terms of working with us and allowing us to use his name for our field.

“His son even came and pitched a game for us at one point.

“It’s great to have that kind of family mentality around our team.”

Tayport ‘gap in the market’

Often described as “America’s pastime”, baseball evolved as a sport amongst the immigrant community to North America and, by the late 19th century, it was widely recognized as the national sport of the United States.

Back in the ‘Old World’, however, a “gap in the market” led to the establishment of Tayport Breakers in 2019.

Paul Gardner in action with Tayport Breakers. Image: Reuben Hustler

After only two years of being in the Scottish Baseball League, Tayport Breakers made history by winning three out of the four available trophies last season.

Since its conception, the club has developed from a handful of enthusiasts to a growing sport family of adults and youths alike, with many players taking part in the game for the very first time.

The Courier caught up with Jason West who explained he set up the baseball team after seeing an opportunity.

The 40-year-old American from Tupelo, Mississippi, predominantly played American football in his youth – as well as a bit of baseball.

Moving to Scotland in 2010 to go to Edinburgh University where he studied for a Masters’ degree in English, the Atlanta Brave baseball fan and New Orleans American football fan played for a former Dundee American football team while living in Edinburgh.

Hsinyen Lai in action with Tayport Breakers. Image: Giles Gardner

He got back into baseball six years ago while living in Glasgow and played for one of the Glasgow clubs.

When his wife got a job at Dundee University and they moved to Tayport in early 2019, he decided to “pick up the pieces” and establish what became Tayport Breakers.

Mixed fortunes

“At the time you had multiple baseball teams in Aberdeen, multiple teams in Edinburgh, multiple teams in Glasgow, but there was nothing really central,” recalled Jason, who now teaches English at the international college at Dundee University.

“I got chatting with a couple of people who were travelling everywhere – from Perth, Stirling, Dundee, Arbroath, St Andrews – very much our catchment area.

“They were all travelling to different cities to play. I asked ‘would you consider playing for a team that’s more local’?”

Paul Gardner in action with Tayport Breakers. Image: Giles Gardner

In late 2019, the club was launched as a “pick up type thing”.

A lot of people showed up to give it a try.

Many didn’t have any baseball experience. Some realised it required a lot of effort or that it “wasn’t for them”.

At first it ended up being “quite a long haul”, said Jason.

At first they were a team with no league and nowhere to play.

But despite the uncertainties of how long Covid-19 restrictions would last, they managed to hang on to their core group.

Early 2022 play at home. Image: Tayport Breakers

“I’d say 2021 was our first full season,” he said.

“It was pretty intense. A lot of the other clubs were a lot more established.

“Once they got the green light to go and play baseball again, they just kind of picked up where they left off, whereas we had a lot of people who had never played before.

“There was a big learning curve for a lot of people!”

International and local blend

Jason said Tayport Breakers were about “half and half” veterans from other countries now settled in the Dundee/Fife area and more locally based Scots brand new to the sport.

Players range from teachers, police officers and doctors to labourers, and everything in between.

Tayport Breakers champions. Image: Tayport Breakers

That first year was “pretty brutal”, he said as they lost their first 10 games.

However, it also showed “who has the drive to make it in the long run”.

Last year the rewards were reaped when they won an unprecedented three major championships in the SNBL (Scottish National Baseball League) – the most by any other club in a single season.

They were crowned Single A season champions, Single A cup champions, Triple A cup champion and won four league-wide MVP (most valuable player) awards.

They also won SNBL Rookie of the Year and a total of 15 individual SNBL awards for outstanding play.

League awards night. Image: Tayport Breakers

Getting the community onside has also been important from the start.

Members have built their own field from scratch at Tayport Common.

One of the first things they did was reach out to Tayport Community Council and Fife Council to seek permission.

They’ve now got a proper mound and base path and two years ago they constructed a steel backstop.

As far as baseball facilities go in Scotland, they are now one of the only teams that has that kind of field to play on, and the aim is to improve it further year on year as a showcase of the sport.

Experienced head coach

Dundee-based Marina DeAngelis, who works as a physiotherapist with the NHS and shares Tayport Breakers head coach responsibilities, is originally from Canada and has played baseball for 25 years.

Marina DeAngelis, head coach of Tayport Breakers. Image: Giles Gardner

She played in the provincial team for British Columbia, played in the Canadian championships for women’s baseball and played softball in college.

She continued playing when she moved to Aberdeen University to study physiotherapy.

When she moved to Dundee in 2021, the establishment of Tayport Breakers was “perfect timing” – although she admits she was pleasantly surprised to learn that baseball is played in Scotland at all.

“I was thinking I’d have to switch to cricket or something!” the 29-year-old laughed.

“The history of baseball in Scotland does run quite deep surprisingly.

Hsinyen Lai in action with Tayport Breakers. Image: Giles Gardner

“Baseball has been played since the ‘80s or even before that.

“I think a lot of people are unaware of it.

“We’ll have people walking by the practices and our game in Tayport and think – ‘oh, what’s going on here’?

“A lot of people are interested when they see us playing.

“Jason does such a great job getting the word out as well.

“There’s a lot of people interested in the sport whether those who’ve played it in other countries or those who are new and want to try it out.”

Raising of profile

While their team is co-ed, they hope to further develop the women’s game.

The profile of the game has also been boosted by Great Britain recently qualifying for the World Baseball Classic (WBC) for the first time in their history.

The WBC, first staged in 2006, features the world’s best international teams in an event equivalent to a World Cup in football, cricket or rugby.

Its fifth edition will be hosted by the USA, Japan and Taiwan in March.

“We’ve got a great youth programme that we started up as well,” said Jason.

“On Saturdays in the summer we have a youth programme for kids ages five and up.

“We accommodate up to 40 kids usually each summer and that grows every year.

“We manage to have a big jamboree with all the other youth programmes from different cities.

Team awards night. Image: Tayport Breakers

“We try to keep it cheap. From the parents’ perspective. Even as far as the adults go, you shouldn’t have to be rich to start something new.

“So we do everything we can to try and keep our costs low to the players and to the families, because it really should be for everybody.

“Anybody who wants to play or has an interest in it, or even just wants to get involved – there’s an awful lot that happens behind the scenes as well.

“Scorekeepers and people who help manage the field – things like that.

“We are not just building a team – we are building a legacy from the ground up!”

Breaker home field play off berth. Image: Tayport Breakers

It’s an ambition shared by Marina, who added: “We want something that’s going to stick around and be successful and continue to be successful like a nurturing place for people to feel comfortable starting in the sport and continue on with it.

“There’s been so much progress from even just last year and the year before in terms of our facilities.

“We are really trying to dig deep roots here and stick around.

“It’s been a really good time and they are really great people.

“The community has been so supportive as well. Getting kids interested is also so important.”

How to get involved

Tayport Breakers will start training and recruitment soon ahead of the 2023 season launching in April. To find out more get in touch via